Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Parekowhai's sculpted state house on Auckland waterfront puzzles visitors

The wrapping has finally come off New Zealand's most expensive sculpture - but some visitors on Auckland's waterfront are puzzled about what to make of it.

Sculptor Michael Parekowhai's $1.5 million work entitled The Lighthouse, designed to look like a classic Kiwi state house, has been plagued by controversy ever since real estate firm Barfoot and Thompson gave $1 million to build it in March 2013 - the country's biggest monetary gift for a single artwork.

The cost blew out to $1.9 million, including a proposed huge chandelier that would have shone from the house like a lighthouse, but was cut back to $1.5 million after Parekowhai replaced the big light with 10 smaller chandeliers representing the stars of Matariki, which guided early Maori navigators.

Anonymous donors made up the $500,000 funding shortfall.

Auckland Council arts and culture manager Kaye Glamuzina said the structure at the end of Queens Wharf would be formally unveiled at "a great public event for everybody" in early to mid-February.

But Ricky Hunn, a beneficiary who fishes on the wharf most days, said the wrapping came off the building last week and it was not getting a good reception.

"It's the most hideous thing I've ever seen, mate," he said.

"I haven't heard any good feedback on it. Everyone just thinks it's a waste of money - we've got a housing crisis so they put up a state house and spend millions on it."

Jodie and Debbie Kauhou from Christchurch, who were visiting Auckland for the first time, were puzzled by it.

"It's just plopped there, I don't really see the purpose of it," said Debbie, 44, a bakery manager.

"It's effective," said Jodie, 42, a technician. "But when we walked through town we just noticed quite a few homeless there. If they forked out $1.5 million, why can't they put it to some kind of housing to get them off the street?"

Jodie (left) and Debbie Kauhou "didn't really see the purpose" of the sculpture
Jodie (left) and Debbie Kauhou "didn't really see the purpose" of the sculpture

Eva Kroiss, a 25-year-old German backpacker, didn't realise the building was a work of art.

"I just thought they were building a house," she said. "I think you'd have to be from New Zealand or know a bit about these houses to actually get it."

However, other visitors found the house tugged at their personal connections with state housing.

Tom Gilbert, 23, who grew up in a state house in Glen Innes, said he felt "conflicted".

"It reminds me of my childhood because I grew up out east and a lot of the houses had that 40s and 50s vibe about them," he said. "But there's a bit of a housing crisis at the moment and it's not even building one house."

Roger Dutton, a manufacturer from Glendowie who was on the wharf with his son Kenny, 3, often drives through Glen Innes and was "curious" about Parekowhai's creation.

"I suppose it's not actually a bad thing because state housing has been a great thing for New Zealand," he said.

And Rhys Utting, 28, a banker who works near the wharf, felt the art work was "awesome".

"I think it's really Kiwi," he said.

Parekowhai, 48, declined to be interviewed but has written that the work signals a "safe harbour" at the end of "diverse history of journeys across water", with the state house style "linking the sculpture to the lives of many different New Zealanders".

"The artwork combines the familiar with the unexpected, the simple with the decorative, the literal with the poetic, inviting us to value our place in the world," he wrote.

"The Lighthouse resonates with the Maori concept of ahi ka, telling us that our home fires have long been burning and the lights are still on."

- NZ Herald

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